Biggest Needs: The good news for Mark Stoops is that he returns 14 combined starters on offense and defense and allows some experience to return, but the bad news is nearly half of those players aren’t SEC-caliber. So, they have needs all across the board, but we’ll start with the biggest.
Kentucky needs playmakers on offense. The Cats don’t return any one player who caught more than two touchdowns last season. So, they had to sign impact receivers who can make plays in space, in traffic and down the field. Senior receiver La’Rod King led the team with 48 catches and four touchdowns and will be notably absent for the offense. But that’s not so much of a bad thing. The biggest losses, however, are offensive linemen Larry Warford and Matt Smith who graduated, and there are two big holes to fill on the line, notably Warford.
Kentucky returns four of the top five tacklers on defense, but replacing defensive ends Collins Ukwu and Taylor Wyndham is the biggest priority for Stoops. In addition, the secondary is absent any real difference-makers, and Stoops had to address the 11th worst defense in the SEC on the backend. Safeties Mikie Benton and Martavius Neloms both graduated.
Needs Met: Absent any real playmakers at receiver, Stoops signed four of them. Headlining this group is freshman in-state standout Ryan Timmons. Timmons played everywhere on offense in high school, but he should transition over to a fulltime receiver and should make an instant impact on special teams. Timmons is a burner and so good in space. He also signed three offensive linemen in the class to help build some depth for the losses of Warford and Smith on the line.
The biggest need on defense was filled with bookends Za’Darius Smith and Jason Hatcher. Smith was one of the top JUCO ends in the country, and he’ll make an instant splash. Hatcher decommitted from USC and signed with Kentucky on signing day, although it was expected for a couple weeks leading up to February 6th. Stoops also signed tackle Jacob Hyde, who will provide immediate depth. Addressing the needs in the secondary, the Cats inked four defensive backs, headlined by the Ohio native and safety standout Marcus McWilson.
Biggest Get: Za’Darius Smith was the biggest get for Stoops, who understands the importance of a stout defensive line. Smith was one of the better ends in JUCO, and Stoops sealed the deal when Smith’s defensive line coach accepted a position on Stoops’ staff. Smith should be an opening-game starter.
Biggest Miss: Four-star dual-threat quarterback Asiantii Woulard would have been a great get for the future of the offense, but he signed with UCLA. The Orlando native Woulard had serious interest in the Wildcats leading up to National Signing Day. He would have been the cherry on an already sexy first class for the Stoops regime.
Final Evaluation: Stoops knew he had to make an instant splash with recruiting, and he landed arguably Kentucky’s best signing class ever. In fact, it was the best class for the Cats, according to Rivals.com. Stoops kept two big-time in-state prospects in Ryan Timmons and Jason Hatcher, and he’s already making headway for the 2014 class. Kentucky has some momentum heading into the offseason, all created by Mark Stoops.
Final Grade: B-
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